Two weeks ago, when I reviewed “The Girl Who Died,” I referenced back to all four earlier episodes, and marveled at how the thematic through lines of the three sets of two-part episodes had built upon one another. Doctor Who has had season long pot arcs, ever since it rebooted in 2005. But none that had ever hung together so tightly, without straying from the story at hand at least once, like accidentally finding oneself on a pirate ship for a week or something. (Painting “Bad Wolf” in random places does not thematically tie a season together, sorry.) Then, out of nowhere, this week’s episode turned a hard right, and drove straight into a parable for our contemporary society’s issues of the day.
Osgood 1: “Every race is capable of the best and the worst.”
Osgood 2: “Everyone is peaceful and warlike.”
Osgood 1: “My race is no different.”
Osgood 2: “And neither is mine.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that! There are entire science fiction series whose success came from being weekly allegorical tales for society’s ills. Despite heavy-handed and didactic episodes like “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” Star Trek‘s entire success predicates on metaphorical moralizing. Battlestar Galactica may have been ground zero for the “gritty reboot” craze, but what most people are forgetting is that the series was a hit not because it went realistic on a tacky 70s oddity. It was the first show to directly tackle the war on terror, from terrorist sleeper cells designed to hide in plain sight (some of who actually did terrorist acts while asleep), to the civil liberties crackdowns, and even a prisoner-torture scandal. Doctor Who, on the other hand, is not a show that has spent a lot of time in the parable business. The last time I can think of Whoniverse stories that functioned as allegories for societies ills were the last two series of Torchwood, though only “Children of Earth” did it well. Doctor Who has far more content with staying within the confines of its own mythos. Even when the show goes “global,” like it did in Series 3’s “Last of the Timelords,” or “The Impossible Astronaut,” the story is focused inward on the Doctor, his companion and his suffering.
This week’s fascinating thought exercise then, was a surprising turn of events, as was when the show was set. Moffat, ever the misdirector, focused in his interviews on calling “The Day of the Doctor” the prologue to this episode, so that with Osgood obviously alive, it became the default assumption that the Doctor would be going back to a point before she was killed in “Death in Heaven,” and seeing the ghosts of the past. What we all forgot is that in “The Day of the Doctor,” there were two Osgoods, and a peace with the Zygons that got left like so many other dangling Moffat plot threads through out the series. Apparently the former never changed. As for the latter….
Clara: “I thought you didn’t like being president of the world?”
The Doctor: “No, but I like poncing about in the big plane.”
What if, without the human race knowing it, UNIT allowed 20 million aliens to take up residence among us in secret? They could live among us peaceably, but they could never show themselves for who they are, forced into living behind human faces, living a lie of who they were. Much like BSG, this has terrorist parable overtones. They live among us, but can disguise themselves as us. There were clear Al Qaeda/Iraq references, with The Doctor’s note that this is a small faction, and that the majority want to live in peace, but if you bomb their cities, you will create a huge radicalization among the populace. But, this being 2015, the ISIS references were also laid on thick, from the logo to the visuals of those hostage videos–remember, most of those videos ISIS has sent back have been of UK and European hostages–to the choice of dark-skinned actors for the Zygon couple who kidnap Clara, to the insurgency based in a Fauxistan country, complete with drone strikes.
But then, in a moment of superb genius, it gives the Zygons aims that function as a parable for another thread in our recent history–that of LBGT rights. What do these Zygons want? To live openly as they are. They’ve been offered a home on Earth, but with the terrible price of never being able to show their true selves. Those older Zygons who lost their planet, and knew the terrors of being homeless in space, were willing to make this sacrifice for safety. But the younger generation, for whom Earth has always been their home, do not understand why they must live in secret. Furthermore, the story of Ground Zero of this Radicalization, in the town of Truth or Consequences, is heartbreaking. One little Zygon orphan, left alone to struggle to hold his disguise accidentally forgot for a moment, and revealed who all these “British” immigrants actually were, causing fear and panic, leading to the Zygons killing all the humans, as much out of self preservation as anything else.
The Doctor: “Well, you can’t have the United Kingdom. There are already people living there. And they’ll think you’re gonna pinch their benefits.”
Yes, what the Zygon rebellion is doing is terrible. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like scene, where the Zygons take out an entire UNIT division by wearing the memories of the faces of their loved ones was chilling. Down under London, there’s something close to the entire population stashed in millions of pods, while above ground are millions of Zygons wearing their faces, biding their time until they can live freely. But it’s not their fault they were born into an untenable situation. What right did UNIT have to demand that this race, before they were even hatched, live their entire lives denying who they are? Why didn’t they protect them better, so that when an incident like the one in New Mexico sparked a crisis, it was dealt with right away? It doesn’t help that there are those like the UNIT Commander Walsh, who makes derogatory jokes about Zygons turning into dogs, clearly thinking of these aliens, these creatures that UNIT promised to house and protect on our planet, as inferior. Lethbridge-Stewart talks openly to Clara (not knowing that by then she’s actually a Zygon) about wishing they had back Z-67 (shades of Nazis’ Zyklon B,) a nerve gas that literally turned Zygons inside out, that was developed by Harry Sullivan post 1975’s “Invasion of the Zygons.” Is it any wonder that these creatures are in full-scale insurgency?
All of these unanswerable quandaries bring us to the end of the episode, where Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and Clara have both been body snatched and replaced by Zygon impostors. UNIT is basically compromised to the core and destroyed. The Doctor and Osgood, on his idiot presidential plane, are about to be blown up by Clara’s surface to air missile. (Shades of the Ukrainian rebels’ take down of Malaysia Flight 17.) Osgood, for the record, does not seem to be working with the Zygon rebels. (She does get referred to though as a “hybrid,” bringing in the only through line from the last six weeks.) But I think if that holds true through to the end of next week, it will be one of the huge twists. All the clues, including her going mad with grief after her twin was killed, travelling to Truth or Consequences, and being there when the rebellion began, add up to being part of what caused the tide to turn.
Osgood: “Question marks are nice. Why don’t you wear them anymore?”
The Doctor: “Oh I do. I’ve got question mark underpants.”
There was no “Next Time” trailer at the end of either the BBC1 or the BBCA showing yesterday. The regular TV commercial for next week focuses solely on Clara, now bodysnatched and controlled by a Zygon commander named Bonnie, leaving us to wonder how exactly Osgood and The Doctor escape that plane. Along with what could possibly constitute a resolution to an otherwise untenable situation. Does the Doctor undo this peace treaty three of his former faces forced, that created this situation? What is in the osgood box? (Does Z-67 have anything to do with the title “The Zygon Inversion”?) Can we let Zygons be Zygons? Or will they somehow magically become, as the Borg once threatened, assimilated?